Updated: May 18
Today in the West, Christians celebrate Easter, the touchstone of the Christian Faith. In todays reflection we look at the boldness of the Easter proclamation. We also explore how this was kept alive in Communist Russia - the first modern state to try to make it illegal to believe in God. We also look at some of the Easter traditions - Eggs and Bunnies - where did they come from? Finally we look at the curious state of affairs that led some extreme Christian groups to ban celebrating Easter - and the difference between a sect and a church.
Easter Sunday and the Resurrection of Christ is the touchstone of the Christian faith. The boldness of the claim of Jesus' bodily resurrection, witnessed by so many in the early community, turns the cross away from a brutal form of execution into a Christian symbol of revolution. The incredible claim that in the twisted, tortured corpse of a man we also find the Creator of the Universe and the power of forgiving love has changed and shaped the world. Perhaps most recently the power and resilience of an Ester Faith can be seem most clearly in communist Russia.
There is a story from the 1980's , when the communists where still trying to enforce atheism about a 6 year-old boy who set out for church on Easter Sunday carrying a basket of eggs meat and pastries to be blessed by the village priest. His Parents, local teachers, sent him alone because they feared they would lose their teaching jobs if they openly expressed their Christian faith on a holiday. Near the church , a big black car stopped next to the boy, and an official leant out the window and scolded the boy. 'Good children do not go to church' he said sternly . The terrified boy dropped the basked and burst into tears, but as the car left two old women comforted him and sent him to the priest, 'Good children do indeed go to church' they told him.
Easter is celebrated afresh in Russia, as people pack churches and cathedrals and many will pray for the grandmothers - the babushki - who taught them to revere icons, to sing hymns and to secretly believe in God. Old Women became the guardians of the Faith because they were insulated from communist reprisal. Already past retirement age , they did not have to worry about a coercive, tyrannical Atheist state. They couldn't be threatened with losing jobs, or being denied promotions or failing to win places at university. Sadly older men were less represented in the towns and villages due to the world wars and Stalin's purges. Just as it was Mary Magdalene who Jesus entrusted the Easter message to that first Easter, it was the Babushki who keep the message alive during the darkness of totalitarian rule and thought police.
The institutional resilience of Christianity has run through the centuries, surviving persecutions and wars, often from within its own squabbling tribes. In Christian countries were Christianity is the state religion or where the country has a large population, Easter is a public holiday and many employees give their workers a week off calling it the 'Easter Break'. The egg is ancient symbol of new birth and new life. In Christianity it became associated with Jesus resurrection. The custom of the painted egg started in the early Christians community of Mesopotamia in memory of the blood of Christ shed at his resurrection. These died eggs have now been replaced with decorated chocolate eggs or plastic eggs filled with candy such as jelly beans, as many people had given up sweets during Lent. The celebrated house of Faberge workshop created exquisite jewelled eggs for the Russian Imperial Family between 1885 and 1916. And a custom that originated in Germany of the Easter Bunny is popular with many children around the world. Interestingly as the rabbit is seen as a pest in Australia - the Easter Bilby is available as an alternative.
Some theologians describe the church itself as the continued presence of the Body of Christ - it is a Body that has been often crucified but has always risen again. Communist Russia was the first state to openly state that one of its aims was the eradication of Religion